By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
DESPITE frantic last-minute legal efforts by environmentalists to block it, dredging has begun in North Bimini. The Niccolo Machiavelli, dubbed “The Reef Destroyer”, started operations yesterday as part of Resorts World Bimini’s controversial construction of a cruise ship terminal, 1,000-foot pier and man-made island.
Photographs taken at the site show a tail of silt, thrown up by the giant dredger, moving north. Resorts World Bimini (RWB) announced yesterday that it had “officially commenced with the next phase of construction at the port of its top-flight destination resort”.
Last night, Bimini Blue Coalition, which is claiming that the project will cause irreparable damage to Bimini’s marine ecosystems, applied for an injunction in the Court of Appeal asking to stop developers.
Last week, the developers’ attorneys had given an undertaking not to dredge until they had given notice that they had all the relevant approvals and permits and provided copies to the Coalition.
Then, on Tuesday, they sent the Coalition what they claim are all the relevant documents, which include a letter of approval from Prime Minister Perry Christie, the Minister of Lands and Surveys.
Coalition lawyer Fred Smith countered saying the developers have not produced a permit from the Director of Physical Planning in accordance with the Conservation and Protection of the Physical Landscape of the Bahamas Act.
Mr Smith yesterday sent a letter to the developers’ lawyer, John Wilson of McKinney, Bancroft & Hughes, saying that his team’s injunction application would come into effect at 6pm that day if Mr Wilson’s team did not respond to their letter saying that, contrary to what has been claimed, all relevant approvals and permits have not been provided.
RWB said yesterday: “With the beginning of the fully permitted dredging process, Resorts World Bimini is moving towards completing the construction of the port at Resorts World Bimini – a key component of RWB’s plans for the island – which will result in multiple benefits, including: multiple business opportunities, increased visitor spending, a year-round tourism season, easier transportation options for the island’s residents to visit loved ones from Miami and the availability of daily cargo service and more.”
The Resort also touted its role in helping to transform Bimini. Its statement said: “The business community on the island is enjoying tremendous benefits to the tune of over $2 million spent by RWB on goods and services. New businesses are opening throughout the island, and a chapter of the Chamber of Commerce is about to be established. Employment figures are up with just under 160 Biminites now employed at the Resort, and more anticipated to be hired during a job fair in the coming weeks.
“The construction of the port at Resorts World Bimini is part of the resort development and island enhancements which includes the paving of the roads, implementation of street lights and directional signage, the establishment of Heritage sites and attractions, and the creation of green spaces.”
However, Tom Ingram, executive director of the Diving Equipment and Marketing Association (DEMA), joined others before him in saying that environmental degradation associated with the ferry pier project could have a negative affect on the economy of Bimini, destroying that island’s dive industry.
Mr Ingram said the dredging of 220,000 cubic yards of seafloor at the heart of Bimini’s pristine reef system could ruin what is a “recreational diving jewel” of the Bahamas.
“A very real concern to DEMA and to all diving businesses – especially those based in nearby Florida – is the fact that any environmental degradation, especially of the magnitude being described in the North Bimini Ferry Terminal Project EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) and its addendum, is likely to have a negative impact on the perception of pristine diving which Bimini now holds in the minds of diving consumers,” Mr Ingram said.
“As a result of this project, it is possible that the number of divers visiting Bimini will decline dramatically as public perception develops regarding this project’s potential environmental impact. Such a trade of one population for another could have devastating impacts on the number of divers visiting Bimini, with a resulting economic impact on Bahamas Dive Association members, DEMA members and the economy of Bimini,” Mr Ingram said.
DEMA, based in San Diego, represents the business and consumer interests of the recreational scuba and snorkel diving industries around the world. Its mission is to promote sustainable growth in safe recreational scuba diving and snorkelling while protecting the underwater environment.
“In our opinion, the potential economic upside of this project is inadequate when compared to the great risks involved with the potential for failure of this project to create positive economic benefit, and the long-term environmental risks involved,” Mr Ingram said.